Matthew Boulton and Silver Making

Image: Sweetmeat Basket, Boulton & Fothergill, 1774

This basket was possibly designed by Robert Adam. The body is made from wire supporting stamped repeated ornaments of grapes and vine leaves.

Image from: Birmingham Assay Office.

Working in solid silver, Boulton had to compete with well-known London craftsmen. He turned for inspiration to the vases in the famous collection of Sir William Hamilton, and to Original Designs by the contemporary Italian designer Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778). Many fine artists were already employed at Soho, but Boulton also obtained designs from leading architects of the time, such as Sir William Chambers (1723-1796), Robert Adam (1728-1792), and James Wyatt (1746-1813). New techniques and classical moulds were adopted to make expensive ornaments for the nobility and cheaper versions for the middle class.

Boulton dominated silver making in Birmingham during the last thirty years of the 18th century. Soho produced a great variety of silver and silver-plated items, ranging from salt cellars to church plate. Silver production reached a peak around 1776-1777 but then slipped, both because it proved unprofitable and because Boulton re-directed his attention to his steam engine business. However, silver and Sheffield plate still remained a staple of the Soho trade.

The Assay Office and hallmarking helped Matthew Boulton to achieve his ambition to become a great silversmith and to earn Birmingham a reputation for style, taste, fashion and quality. This reputation was confirmed by the following generation of fine local craftsmen and their elegant items. Some of them can now be seen and admired in the silver collection of Birmingham Assay Office.

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4459-0Matthew Boulton and Birmingham Silverware in the late 18th and early 19th centuries 4218-0Matthew Boulton and the Formation of Birmingham Assay Office 4603-0Hallmarking and the Work of Birmingham Assay Office 4604-0Hallmarking and the Work of Birmingham Assay Office 4605-0Matthew Boulton and Silver Making 4606-0One of a pair of candlesticks, Boulton & Fothergill, 1768 4607-0Mazarin, or Fish Strainer, Boulton & Fothergill, 1769 3963-0Pair of salts, Boulton & Fothergill, 1773 3991-0Two of a set of four salts, Boulton & Fothergill, 1776 3948-0One of a pair Sauce Tureens, Boulton & Fothergill, 1776 4608-0Sweetmeat Basket, Boulton & Fothergill, 1774 4610-0Dish and Cover, Boulton & Fothergill, 1777 4611-0Cup and Cover, Boulton & Fothergill, 1777 4612-0One of a pair of candlesticks, Matthew Boulton, 1789 4613-0Warwick Vase and Cover, M. Boulton & Plate Co. 1827